Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Transformation and the faith community

Continuing the discussion that has arisen from the Jill Hudson seminar held by the Presbytery of Cincinnati.

For those of you just joining us, see the first post in this series for background on the context (who is Jill Hudson and why she was speaking to our presbytery) and see the second post for an overview of her presentation (and some crisp and insightful comments from readers of the Eagle and Child)

The comments to the last post have been interesting -- much of them centered, predictably, on the issue of worship -- particularly worship style. These commentors wrestle with an important issue that I think needs to be discussed, however it seems that the emotional charge of worship overshadows the another important issue. Michael Kruse hits it on the head in his comment: "Emergence has as one of its core questions, how do we become authentic community?"

This gets to the issue of how do we bring people into the community? How do we equip people for the work of the community? How do we engage in the "work" of the community?

First off, bringing people into the community. Hudson rightly emphasizes the need to be very proactive about evangelism. The second characteristic she highlights is "the ability to guide a transformational faith experience." Neighbor Aaron Klinefelter (who is living the postmodern church experience) made this comment "I'm not sure I can really 'guide a transformational faith experience'. I think I can be attentive.... present with... persons (and myself) in a season/process of transformation. If I 'guide' at all it is by wondering (and wandering) aloud (hopefully) in tune with the Spirit. I look ahead with expectation."

This is where Hudson's language gets in the way -- she's speaking Presbyspeak to Presbyterians. Indeed that's why the Transformation committee chose her to come speak to the pastors. There are a number of folks who need hand holding and need to hear these concepts in Presbyspeak. However, for us to actually communicate with people outside our enclave of Presbydom, we need to translate. What Hudson means by her language is something much closer to Aaron's comment. In the seminar, she said that she basically means evangelism -- and that the churches that are doing best at this spend a 3-4 year committment living alongside folks, lovingly answering questions, and simply loving on them -- all the while gently pointing to Jesus Christ. That seems to fall right in line with Aaron's definition.

And before I have a bunch of folks jump down my throat that this is too "liberal" or that we need to impress upon our "targets" the propositional truth of the message about Jesus Christ, understand this: Just last night, I had dinner with John Daly of Cincy House church. John is about as conservative theologically as it gets, and his whole approach is just about the same as outlined above -- come along side people. Let them talk. Ask questions (don't be afraid to probe deeply). Love them, and after 3-4 years you might just see some fruit. John would aslo throw in there, don't be afraid to let them know what you really believe -- you're not being a slickster trying to sell Jesus. Just be authentically Christian and present what you authentically believe (John, I hope you visit and comment to clarify if I've misrepresented or underrepresented your thoughts here)

This is simply living out the truth of I Peter 3:15-16 "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect..." This is evangelism, and relational evangelism at that. Fundamentalists think evangelism is handout out bible tracts, mainliners think evangelism is about advertising. But what Hudson means, and what others on the postmodern cutting edge tell us is that evangelism is about purposeful relationships -- relationships that hope to bring our friends into THE relationship with The Living God. Relationships that earn us the trust to convey the eternal truths of the faith.

Then from there, comes the question of what do you do with people when they come into a faith relationship with Jesus. This leads to the issue of "equipping" -- which Hudson addresses in characteristics 8 "the ability to identify, develop, and support lay leaders" and 9
"the ability to build, inspire, and lead a ‘team’ of both staff and volunteers" Again, Michael Kruse provides a cautionary corrective: "I do take issue with 'the ability to identify, develop, and support lay leaders.' This begs a critical question: To what end? To the end of using the congregation as a farm team to develop institutional cogs in a machine or to equip people for service as parents, accountants, factory workers, nurses, dog catchers or whatever ministry God has called on them to provide? Also, there is no such thing as laity (laikos.) There is only the 'laos' to whom the term kleros (from which we get the term clergy) always applies. We are a body of ministers with elders and pastors set aside to equip us primarily for ministry in the world, not inside the four walls of a 'sacred building.' This gets back to her fourth point about being a missional outpost."

Kruse rightly discerns that all too often, language of equipping is a subterfuge for a pastor's extending his/her ego through the activities of the congregation. I realize that we're talking about a fine line, because a pastor is also called to be a visionary and to lead. But I've seen too many pastors fall into the subtle trap of thinking that their congregants are "their" people -- a kind of ecclesiastical serfdom. I can say this because I've seen that demon within me, and I fight to resist it. Therein lies the peril of leadership: thinking of people as property rather than as partners.

Hudson makes the point that pastors need to step out of the picture -- simply they need to back off. She believes that pastors should be the vision casters and values champions, but they need to then get out of the way. We need to learn to become encouragers (Interestingly Hudson says we need to give four positive encouragements for every "constructive" criticism. However, the book How Full is Your Bucket suggests that the ratio is actually more like seven positive encouragements for every criticism). We need to give people permission to fail, and to love them when they do. We need to be more comfortable with less control (perhaps that will show us that we don't really have control to begin with, and in turn will drive us to depend more on the Holy Spirit). Those are the concepts that are swirling around in Hudson's thought behind the veneer of Presbyspeak -- and I have to agree with her. Ephesians 4:12ff tells us that Christ gave us leadership in the church "....to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." This sounds wonderful until we realize that this is an end goal -- that the actual process is messy and hard and not always very pleasant -- which is why Paul moves on in Ephesians to talk about Christian living and spiritual warfare.

Well enough ranting for today. Again, these are "from the gut" thoughts, not finalized formulations -- what are your thoughts?

Soli Deo Gloria